Tory Retaliation for Nathaniel Freeman’s March on Barnstable Courthouse?

On September 27, 1774, 26-year-old Dr. Nathaniel Freeman of Sandwich, Massachusetts, led 1500 Patriots from the Cape Cod area in “the first open overt act done in the face of day without disguise, which according to the British jurisprudence, would be called treason,” as reflected on the 1774 event in the June 3, 1837 issue of Niles’ Weekly Register.

Freeman led the massive party to the Barnstable County Court House to protest an unfair British-imposed method of juror selection. For more background about this historic event, read Mary Hall Leonard’s Cape Cod Magazine article titled The Breaking Up of The Barnstable Court (1915).

The purpose of this post, however, is to raise awareness of what may be the Tory retaliation for Freeman’s march on the Barnstable Court. The October 24, 1774 issue of the Newport Mercury reports that six Tories attempted to murder Freeman. According to the report, pictured below, Freeman escaped and the six Tories eventually received their own justice from the Sons of Liberty.


  1. J. L. Bell
    March 30, 2010

    In August 1774, crowds in western Massachusetts counties started closing their courts, just as Freeman did later at the end of September. On 2 Sept 1774, an estimated 4,000 militiamen demanded the resignation of royal officials in Cambridge and chased one Customs Commissioner to the gates of Boston.

    Men did those things in daylight without disguises, so I’m not sure why the article in Niles’ Weekly Register presents the Barnstable action as the first of its kind. Except that that article appeared first in the Old Colony Memorial, and the “Old Colony” of Plymouth included Barnstable County.

    It would be nice to know what the young ladies meant by “Dr. H——r’s RAG BABY.”

  2. raglinen
    March 30, 2010

    Hmm, good point. And that wasn’t the only source I found calling it the “first open overt act”. Thanks for contributing to the conversation and adding value to this post, J.L. Much appreciated.

    As for “Dr. H___r,” I am only able to find a Dr. Thomas Holker from Barnstable. I didn’t realize “Benjamin Bourn” was also a doctor. Assuming the Bourn mentioned in the above report is the same “Benjamin Bourne” mentioned in this source, he was born in 1744, graduated from Harvard in 1764 and was one of the early practitioners in Sandwich. That would make this doctor vs. doctor.

    Also, my research turned up a Samuel Dillingham from Sandwich that enlisted in Col. Freeman’s regiment on September 11, 1779, and was then discharged three days later. Coincidence?

  3. J. L. Bell
    March 30, 2010

    All pre-Revolutionary Harvard graduates have biographies in a book series called Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, so the entry on Benjamin Bourn(e) might have more to say about this conflict.

    Both Bourn(e) and Freeman remained in town after the war, so they probably had to learn to live with each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same Samuel Dillingham as well, though Samuel was such a common name that I wouldn’t dare say it was.

  4. J. L. Bell
    April 1, 2010

    Okay, I found a bit more in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, though it might add mystery rather than clear it up. There are reports about this dispute in the 3 Nov 1774 Massachusetts Spy and 7 Nov 1774 Boston Evening-Post.

    Bourne and some other men had called on Freeman “to answer for some supposed misdemeanours committed against Doctor Bourne.” Bourne’s brother Shearjashub was a justice of the peace, so he might have disliked the closing of the courts, but this seems like a dispute between the two doctors. Bourne’s men beat up Freeman and broke his sword—which might have been a symbolic attack on his status as gentleman. Or maybe a sword is just a sword.

    Then townspeople came to help Freeman. Justice James Otis (father of the famous Boston lawyer, who by this time was debilitated by mental illness) put Bourne and another man under bond. However, with the courts closed, that meant there was no legal way to solve the dispute. So there was this confrontation in Sandwich.

    A crowd made Bourne and his comrades stand with their hats off on a platform under the town’s Liberty Pole and admit to an attack “as would disgrace the character of a ruffian or a Hottentot.” Bourne also had to promise to stop selling tea.

    Bourne never left town to join the British, however, and had a long career in Sandwich.

  5. raglinen
    April 4, 2010

    Great context! Thanks for doing some digging and sharing it with the Rag Linen readers. If I recall correctly from my research, Freeman is somehow related to the Otis family.

  6. Tsufit
    July 28, 2010

    What a wonderful blog! It would have been so incredible for the creators of these newspapers to know that their creations would live on and available to anyone around the world with a few clicks. Love the name, Rag Linen.

  7. Tivish
    February 1, 2013

    Justice James Otis was the uncle of Martha Otis Freeman, the mother of Dr. Nathaniel Freeman.

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